Lance Lynn’s seven-inning, two-run, five-hit effort in Tuesday night’s 11-2 victory over the San Diego Padres wasn’t the kind of dominant start that will fuel hopes that the burly right-hander can front the Dodgers’ playoff rotation or carry the team to the World Series in October.
But it provided a much-needed shot in the arm to a staff that has been ravaged by season-ending elbow injuries to Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, Clayton Kershaw’s velocity-sapping shoulder injury, Walker Buehler’s aborted comeback from Tommy John surgery and Julio Urías’ recent arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.
Lynn gave an overworked bullpen a respite with a 111-pitch effort in which he struck out three and walked two, and first baseman Freddie Freeman and catcher Will Smith provided the bulk of the offense to help the Dodgers reduce their magic number to clinch their 10th National League West title in 11 years to five games.
Freeman celebrated his 34th birthday in style with four hits and four runs, smacking a two-run home run in the third inning and his major league-leading and franchise record-extending 55th double to right field in the eighth. He now has 121 runs on the season, a career high.
Smith doubled in the first, walked and scored in the third, cracked a three-run homer in the fourth and was hit by a pitch and scored in the seventh.
“Yeah, when I walked in today and saw all this here, I just kind of let out a laugh,” said Freeman, whose corner locker in the clubhouse was filled with blue and silver balloons, boxes of cookies and a case of fine wine gifted to him by teammate Jason Heyward, who has the locker next door.
“I kind of knew who was responsible–that’s my locker mate here. It’s just cool. All the guys started saying happy birthday at around 10 a.m., when I woke up, so it was just nice. Everyone let me know it was my birthday.”
A mariachi band serenaded Freeman with a birthday song before the start of the second inning, and a crowd of 42,194 in Chavez Ravine chanted his name–”Freddie! Freddie!”–in the ninth.
“You’ve got a four-deck stadium, the only one in baseball, you have 50,000 people here every night, for them to go out of their way to make you feel good when you’re doing your job, it means a lot,” Freeman said. “I do appreciate it.”
Lynn went 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his first five starts for the Dodgers after his July 28 trade from the Chicago White Sox but was rocked for 15 earned runs and 14 hits — six of them homers — in nine innings of his next two starts, losses to Atlanta and Miami.
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“The last two starts were not good, and I think it was a wake-up call for Lance,” manager Dave Roberts said before the game. “Not that he needs one, but he takes it personally. He’s a pro, and I expect him to go out there and fill up the strike zone and make quality pitches and put us in a position to win.”
Lynn did just that despite serving up his major league-high 41st home run, a solo shot by Fernando Tatis Jr. in the fifth inning.
Lynn escaped a two-on, no-out jam in a 26-pitch first inning by getting Juan Soto to pop out to third, Manny Machado to fly to the warning track in right, and striking out Xander Bogaerts on a full-count, 94-mph fastball.
Dodgers shortstop Kiké Hernández made a superb backhand snag of Tatis’ 111-mph one-hopper and fired to second baseman Mookie Betts to start a double play to end the third.
The Padres loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth on Soto’s double, Machado’s single and Bogaerts’ walk, but Lynn minimized damage by retiring Trent Grisham on an RBI fielder’s choice (a bunt to third), Matthew Batten on a fly to right and Brett Sullivan on a fly to left.
“I don’t think Lance had command tonight–everyone in the ballpark saw that he was trying to find his delivery, the ball was doing some funky things, and he was getting into some bad counts, some walks there,” Roberts said. “But he made pitches when he needed to.
“The double play from Kike, and that fourth inning, when they had the bases loaded and Grisham lays down a bunt, that got us out of the inning. That changed the game. Guy hitting in the six-hole lays down a bunt … he basically did us a favor, because they had [Lynn] on the ropes. He recovered and got through seven.”
Freeman jump-started the Dodgers offense with a single to center with one out in the first inning. He took third on Smith’s double to left and scored on Max Muncy’s sacrifice fly to center for a 1-0 lead.
Kiké Hernández led off the third with a single to right, and Freeman drove a one-out homer to left-center, his 26th of the season, for a 3-1 lead. Smith, Muncy and J.D. Martinez walked to load the bases, and David Peralta’s fielder’s choice made it 4-1.
The Padres scored in the top of the fourth, but the Dodgers answered with three more runs in the bottom half of the inning, Hernández reaching on a one-out infield single, Freeman stroking a two-out single to right and Smith crushing a three-run homer to center — his first extra-base hit since Sept. 3 and first homer since Aug. 29 — for a 7-1 lead.
The Dodgers tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs against reliever Nick Hernandez and scoring on Chris Taylor’s RBI single and Outman’s sacrifice fly off veteran left-hander Rich Hill, and two in the eighth on Martinez’s two-run single.
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The Dodgers promoted another prized pitching prospect, recalling Kyle Hurt from triple-A Oklahoma City, and the 25-year-old right-hander shined in his big-league debut.
Hurt replaced Lynn to start the eighth inning and retired the heart of the Padres order — Tatis on a fly ball to center, Soto on a grounder to shortstop and Machado on a grounder to third. He then struck out the side — Garrett Cooper, Grisham and Batten — in the ninth.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Hurt, a Rancho Santa Fe native who played at USC, had the highest strikeout rate in the minors, going 4-4 with a 3.87 ERA, 145 strikeouts and 41 walks in 88⅓ innings over 25 games (16 starts) for double-A Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Ranked the organization’s 12th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, Hurt features a fastball that sits between 93-96 mph and touches 98, a plus changeup, tight slider and curve.
Hurt, who will provide length out of the bullpen, was a fifth-round pick of the Marlins in 2020. He was acquired along with left-hander Alex Vesia for reliever Dylan Floro before the 2021 season.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.